Here are some examples of short wins and good news for CEOs in the growing tug-of-war between business leaders and supposedly well-intentioned regulators.
1. Pushing back in D.C. Politicians have been taking shots at the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law for years, but recently MetLife also began pushing back, challenging the federal government’s decision to subject the insurer to stricter oversight and setting up the biggest test yet for regulators responsible for protecting the U.S. financial system from another crisis. Pitting itself against the Financial Stability Oversight Council created by Dodd-Frank, MetLife said it doesn’t pose significant risks to the U.S. financial system should it collapse and pushed back against increased oversight which could crimp its ability to raise dividends and buy back shares.
2. Winning in California. Airbnb, the online company that has revolutionized the vacation-rental business, mobilized users to call and visit their state representatives in California and thus helped to turn back efforts by a state senator to force the company and rivals to hand user data to local governments so that cities could retrieve traveler taxes. Airbnb argued that host data is private and that it was inappropriate to require a company to police its users on behalf of the government.
In a similar vein, outrage by car-sharing companies including Uber, Lyft and Sidecar forced the California Department of Motor Vehicles to retract a controversial memo telling the companies’ drivers that they needed to register their cars as commercial vehicles.
3. Pausing in Minneapolis. The vigorous opposition of local business leaders caused the mayor of Minneapolis to table, for now, efforts by the Minneapolis City Council to forge what some call the most sweeping fair-scheduling ordinance ever contemplated in the country. It would require employers to provide advance notice of work schedules and pay extra to employees if their schedule changes within a notice period. “Fair notice” has been an issue for large employers such as Walmart and Starbucks.
But CEOs and company owners argued that the ordinance would be unworkable, unfair and ultimately too expensive, the Wall Street Journal reported. Mayor Betsy Hodges said a few weeks ago that she’d put the proposal on hold. Still, it’s just one example of a rising tide of municipal employment laws that are imposing a huge burden on employers, argued V. John Ella, a Minneapolis attorney, in an op-ed article.
4. Protecting jobs in Appalachia. Mining-industry groups and their political allies are still pushing back against planned new regulations by the Obama administration whose professed aim is to protect streams from waste created by the controversial mountaintop-removal mining process, updating decades-old rules. The National Mining Association estimated that as many as 270,000 jobs are at risk in mining and related sectors from the regulation whose reach, it said, would go beyond Appalachia. Coal-company CEOs see the rule as just another weapon in the administration’s “war on coal” as a way to ease climate change.
5. Easing up in Wisconsin. The Badger State has acted against expansion of further occupational licensing by municipalities in Wisconsin. Business leaders and their lobbying organizations long have complained about how occupational-licensing requirements represent a confusing thicket of regulations that unnecessarily make it more difficult for entrepreneurs to acquire momentum while at the same time providing questionably effective extra layers of protection for consumers.
Even the White House has been dubious about the rapid expansion of occupational licensing at the local level. “There is evidence that licensing requirements raise the price of goods and services, restrict employment opportunities, and make it more difficult for workers to take their skills across state lines,” the administration concluded in a report in July.
So under Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin finally has done something about it, passing a law that bars local governments from creating new occupational licenses. It won’t roll back a list of requirements that includes licensing of pawn brokers in Madison and sellers of used bicycles in Milwaukee, but the law will keep things from getting worse.
6. Persisting in Arkansas. Rhea Lana Riner continues to fight the U.S. Labor Department and in federal courts for the right of her 18-year-old children’s consignment company to exist. Regulators don’t like the fact that Rhea Lana’s benefits from voluntary unpaid labor at its two annual sales of children’s clothing, believing, as the company founder put it, “it is illegal for a private business to receive an ounce of help without providing financial compensation.”
So the Labor bureaucrats have conducted a “years-long and still-unofficial crusade” against Rhea Lana’s that has placed the company in “regulatory purgatory” with the issue yet unresolved by the courts, the owner wrote in the Wall Street Journal. Yet Rhea Lana’s stays in business, and quite prosperously, as she battles to get the regulators off her back.
Each of these stories should encourage CEOs and business owners at a time when governments seem more intent on preventing than encouraging them from growing.